Boston Comic Con: The Show Must Go On

The chain of events that began with two bombs going off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon reverberated through the Boston comics community. On Friday, as Boston Comic Con organizers tried to figure out whether the con could go on, "Adventure Time" artists Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb were watching the manhunt from their Watertown home and Adri Cowan was collecting comics for Children's Hospital, where many of the victims were being treated. After BCC organizers made the call to postpone the show, area comics shops opened their doors to the creators for a number of free-to-the-public mini-cons on Saturday and Sunday. One creator, Neil Gibson, who had come from the UK to what was supposed to have been his first U.S. convention appearance, even gave away copies of his graphic novel to comics shops to pass along to their customers for free.

Paroline and Lamb were awakened early Friday morning by phone calls and texts from friends and neighbors, and they quickly became aware that their weekend plans might be disrupted. "The whole day from that point on became increasingly unreal," they told CBR. "A manhunt is an unreal situation to hear about anywhere, let alone in our town. On top of that, our whole town was on lockdown. We were lucky to be just outside of the 20-block radius where the manhunt was conducted in earnest, but the action was still so close to us. We saw the emergency vehicles traveling up North Beacon, Arsenal and Mt. Auburn all day, and we listened to the live stream of the Watertown police scanner. It gives you a hyper-awareness of your community, thinking about who lives where and the last time you were on a street mentioned on the scanner.

"Watertown is pretty much exactly the quiet suburb community that others have characterized. We enjoy working and living in this town, where there are families and kids, a place where no real serious crimes seem to be committed. It's shocking and sad to know that, no matter what he might have done, someone died a violent death in our town.

"At the end of the day it was a relief to hear that the second suspect was captured alive -- not because we need answers from him, but because he's a person. As nerve wracking as the whole day was, it was a cathartic experience to walk two blocks up to where everyone had gathered and cheer on our local, state, and national law enforcement who worked so long and so well to protect everyone involved.

"Boston is awesome because we care so much about the people around us. We're invested in our community in so many ways. Even our comics collective, the Boston Comics Roundtable, doesn't exactly happen everywhere, no matter how many cartoonists a city may have per capita, because Boston is connected."

As the manhunt remained active on Friday afternoon, and with vendors unable to get to the Hynes Convention Center to load in, the organizers of Boston Comic Con made the decision to cancel the show. "We very much wanted to see the convention continue," Boston Comic Con's Colin Solan told CBR. "Had the lockdown been lifted even a few hours earlier and the suspect caught, we definitely would have gone through with it. When the Red Sox cancelled Friday night's game at 3pm we figured it was over and soon after got the word from the Hynes. We apologize profusely to all the attendees, vendors, and guests who were inconvenienced by it but no one could have anticipated this unprecedented shutdown of a major metropolitan area."

Almost immediately, area comics stores began inviting fans and creators to participate in alternative events. Larry Doherty of Larry's Comics in Lowell sent out a special edition of his newsletter inviting creators, vendors, and fans to come to his store for a free mini-con. Soon, Comicazi in Somerville, Friendly Neighborhood Comics in Bellingham, Comicopia in Boston and Studios at Porter Mills in Beverly all announced they would be hosting creators.

At Comicazi, the line on Saturday snaked through the store and out the door as fans lined up to see Tim Seeley, Tim Sale and Don Rosa, among others. "To my understanding, this all came together Friday when artist Tim Seeley suggested to Solan that the creators who were in town for the BCC should get together at local shops to give back to the Boston area comic fans in light of the cancellation and the insane week that preceded the Con's cancellation," said Michael Burke, co-owner of Comicazi. Solan, who is a Comicazi customer and knew the layout of the shop, reached out directly to Burke, who consulted with his partner. Soon, Solan had confirmed appearances by Seeley, Sale, Rosa, Agnes Garbowska and David Mack. Burke invited local artists Ming Doyle and Erica Henderson as well. "They scrapped their Saturday schedule and pulled in all of their staff to help out," Solan said of Comicazi's overnight efforts to find a place for fans to spend their weekend. "We absolutely could not have done it without them."

"At some point during the night while I slept, the event seemed to take on a life of its own as I and the store received calls and emails from artist representatives looking to appear," Burke said. "Several creators actually showed at the door that we weren't expecting, such as Nick Bradshaw, Ale Garza and Tamsin Silver. And Bill Willingham showed up at 1 PM, standing in line! He was very funny and gracious."

"I cannot under emphasize how grateful we are that these shops opened their doors and the artists so generously gave their time to the fans," Solan said of the weekend's efforts around Boston. "I spoke to many attendees who had driven long distances from the likes of Canada and Missouri to be here and were so happy to have the opportunity to still meet some of the guests."

Boston Comic Con was to have been UK-based creator Neil Gibson's first U.S. show, and even after the bombings, he decided to go ahead and attend. "We figured that with American security, the convention would be one of the safest places," he said. Gibson is the founder of a small publisher called T-Pub, which only publishes his work at the moment, although he has plans to bring other creators into the fold. He describes his graphic novel series "Twisted Dark" as "a series of [interconnected] short stories that are all dark in nature and they usually have twist endings."

The cancellation left him with boxes of "Twisted Dark" and no show to sell them at. So, he said, "We decided to do something nice for Bostonians."

That something was to give away copies of "Twisted Dark." "We went on Google Maps and found an area with a high concentration of comic book shops," he said. "We went to them and gave them some stock. The shops simply didn't have room to take all our stock (we had HUNDREDS of trade paperbacks), so we started giving them away on the streets around Harvard. People were so friendly and grateful. Some tried to buy them off us, others offered us free food from their shops. People were even coming out of bars to pick up copies and one guy even said he wanted a copy for President Obama's cousin because he loves comics. I have no idea if the man was telling the truth or not, but he looked sincere!"

Gibson dropped off comics at Million Year Picnic, Newbury Comic and New England Comics. And, like many other creators, he ended up at Comicazi. "When I started writing two and a half years ago, I never thought I would be signing books at the same tables as Bill Willingham, Tim Sale and others," he said. "These people are giants in the industry, so I felt like I was living the dream sitting with them all." He planned to go to Comicopia in Kenmore Square on Sunday.

Doing the giveaway inspired Gibson to offer his comic digitally for free as well. "We hadn't planned on it, but we quickly realized that it was unfair for the people who missed out on the free physical copies because they weren't fast enough," he said. "So yes, were are giving away the digital copies for free. If you want the free copies, just email us at info@neilgibsoncomics.com and we'll send you a pack." Gibson will be heading to C2E2 in Chicago later this week.

Adri Cowan decided to start her comics drive shortly after two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring over 170. "Like everyone else post-tragedy, I felt helpless; I wanted to do something," she said. "There are some amazing fundraisers happening already, so I wanted to do something in a different way, one that I thought would bring joy to the children affected. Comic books are like a slice of imagination in your hands; bright, fun and an immediate distraction. What these kids need now is that distraction from all the terror, white hospital walls and, in a nutshell, a distraction from reality. I wanted to help bring that to them." Larry Doherty helped her connect with Dr. Athos Bousvaros at Children's, who took care of the arrangements on the hospital's side.

After posting an appeal on her blog, she said, "I've received an incredibly overwhelming response from both companies and individuals who want to help, as well as wonderful coverage on industry blogs." A host of publishers, including Marvel, Archie, Viz, Oni Press, Fantagraphics, IDW, First Second, Papercutz, Action Lab and Top Shelf, responded to the call, as did Joe Staton, Tim Taylor,and other creators, along with a number of comics shops. Cowan will bring the donations to the hospital on Wednesday, April 24, in a borrowed van, and she is already thinking of organizing another collection. "Organizations like Child's Play do an amazing job at bringing video games as well as books and comics to hospitals," she said, "and I think we can go even further with comics. The community is amazingly supportive and caring."

Ultimately, the future of the Boston Comic Con is somewhat uncertain as a last minute cancellation of a show can be a tough thin to overcome, no matter the reason behind it. Solan remains optimistic, however. "This definitely a big stumbling block for us but I'm confident we will recover," he said. "We've received an overwhelming amount of sympathy from the comics community. Many creators, fans and other conventions have sent notes of support which are greatly appreciated."

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